Loudon II: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart soldiers to 20th at New Hampshire LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 14, 2003) - With three top-three finishes and six top-10 finishes in nine careers starts at New Hampshire International Speedway - including a win in July of 2000 - Tony Stewart ...

Stewart soldiers to 20th at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 14, 2003) - With three top-three finishes and six top-10 finishes in nine careers starts at New Hampshire International Speedway - including a win in July of 2000 - Tony Stewart expects to race well at the 1.058-mile oval.

But with his 10th career start in Sunday's Sylvania 300, Stewart's expectations came to a grinding halt on lap 195 when Ryan Newman made contact with Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, sending Stewart backward into the turn two wall.

It marked another tough week for The Home Depot Racing Team, as the previous race at Richmond (Va.) ended with a similar result - a 27th place finish after contact with Jeff Burton on lap 129 sent Stewart backward into the turn three wall.

As frustrating as the last two weeks have been, crew members of the #20 team have persevered, a fact exemplified by their run in the Sylvania 300.

From the start of the 300-lap race, Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet was an ill-handling machine. "Too tight through the corners," radioed Stewart on lap 13. "Whatever changes we make, they need to be pretty extensive."

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli went to work, calling for a wedge and air pressure adjustment during the team's first pit stop while under green on lap 80. While still far from perfect, the orange and black attack was improving. "Your lap times are much better than before," Zipadelli radioed to Stewart.

It showed on the race track, as Stewart managed his way from his 32nd place starting spot to 20th by lap 120.

When the day's first caution flag waved on lap 127, Stewart again came to pit road for scheduled service. A spring rubber was placed in the right rear while only two tires were taken. The two-tire strategy gained Stewart five positions on the race track, with the chassis adjustment allowing Stewart to turn better through the corners without hurting his entry or exit.

More work was needed, however. Zipadelli and Company continued to troubleshoot, dropping a pound of air pressure out of the left side tires during the team's third trip to pit road while under caution on lap 148.

The stop dropped Stewart to 21st in the running order, whereupon the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion hovered before getting slightly caught up in a frontstretch traffic jam that left Dale Jarrett's Ford a battered mess. Some right front damage was done to Stewart's ride, as cars stacked up behind Jarrett.

The #20 team quickly pitted, taking right side tires while repairing minimal damage to the right front nose and fender. Stewart remained in the top-20 when the race returned to green on lap 172.

Thirteen laps later the caution flag flew again, and with a savvy call by Zipadelli to take fuel only, Stewart jumped up to 11th. That's where he was running before contact with Newman derailed The Home Depot Racing Team's forward progress. Heavy damage to the rear of the car was sustained, nullifying the numerous chassis adjustments made to that point.

From that moment on, it was a matter of fixing the damage while staying on the lead lap. The team successfully repaired the damage, but their lead lap status was no more. They soldiered home to a 20th place result, a respectable effort considering the day's events.

Despite the adversity, Stewart remained 11th in the championship point standings, 48 points out of the top-10 and 277 points out of the top-five.

Winning the Sylvania 300 was Jimmie Johnson, while Ricky Rudd, Joe Nemechek, Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr., rounded out the top-five.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sept. 21 MBNA America 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson